Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice process can be extremely confusing and overwhelming for alleged offenders and parents alike. Alleged crimes committed by minors less than 18 years of age are typically handled by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and the agency has specific procedures they follow in these cases.

The DJJ states that its mission is, “To increase public safety by reducing juvenile delinquency through effective prevention, intervention and treatment services that strengthen families and turn around the lives of troubled youth.” While the agency frequently strives to provide rehabilitative options for alleged youth offenders, certain minors with criminal backgrounds or accused of certain offenses could have their cases transferred to adult courts.

West Palm Beach Juvenile Justice System Lawyer

If your child was recently arrested in South Florida, you should not delay in seeking legal counsel who can help get the best possible outcome to his or her case. Meltzer & Bell, P.A. provides legal defense for alleged juvenile offenders in such areas as Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Greenacres, and Palm Beach Gardens.

Our Palm Beach County juvenile justice system attorneys have more than two decades of combined experience handling these types of cases on both sides of the aisle. You can have our firm review your case when you call (561) 557-8686 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.

Florida Juvenile Justice System Information Center

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Juvenile Arrests in Palm Beach County

After a crime has been committed, law enforcement will either arrest an alleged juvenile offender at the time of the offense or following an investigation. When law enforcement takes an alleged offender into custody, the juvenile can either be released to his or her parent or guardian, or he or she may be released to the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) at 3400 Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach.

If a minor is released to his or her parent or guardian, law enforcement sends the charges to the State Attorney’s Office to be reviewed. Palm Beach County is in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, and all juvenile felony and misdemeanor offenses—excluding misdemeanor traffic offenses—are handled by the State Attorney’s Office Juvenile Division.

However, if a minor is released to the JAC, then his or her case is sent to the State Attorney’s Office on the same day and DJJ intake personnel begins the detention process. The personnel will then complete a Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI)—a standardized evaluation that takes into account the nature of the minor’s alleged offense, his or her prior criminal history, and any aggravating circumstances—to determine whether the alleged juvenile offender should be held in secure detention, placed on home detention (house arrest), or released to his or her parent or guardian.

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West Palm Beach DRAI Outcomes

Following a DRAI, the minor’s score will result in one of three outcomes:

  • Released to Parent or Guardian — The alleged youth offender is released to his or her parent or guardian while awaiting a decision whether the State Attorney will pursue charges.
  • Placed on Home Detention — The minor and his or her parent or guardian will have to complete a home detention contract and be given a notice of the date and time of the detention hearing for the next day.
  • Held in Secure Detention — If the alleged juvenile offender meets the statutory criteria for secure detention, DJJ personnel transports him or her to the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center in West Palm Beach for custody until his or her detention hearing the following day.

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Juvenile Detention Hearings in Florida

If a minor is held in secure detention or placed on home detention, he or she will have a detention hearing the next day. During this hearing that is held either at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach on weekdays or the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on weekends and holidays, the court will determine whether probable cause exists to believe the alleged juvenile offender committed a crime and merits continued detention.

Minors cannot be held in detention more than 21 days, except for cases in which an adjudicatory hearing has been started or a continuance has been granted be the court.  

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Trying Juveniles as Adults in Palm Beach County

There are three ways minors can be charged as adults in Florida:

  • Grand jury indictment
  • The state filing an indictment or an Information (a charging document) in adult court
  • Case transferred by the juvenile court to the adult court upon motion by the state

Adult charges are usually reserved for serious criminal offenses, but it is always in the best interest of any alleged youth offender to be represented by a skilled defense lawyer who can help make sure that the case remains in juvenile courts where the possible penalties are far less severe.

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West Palm Beach Juvenile Arraignments

If an alleged juvenile offender is on detention status, an arraignment hearing is usually held at the same time as the detention hearing. If the minor is not on detention status, then he or she will be served a summons that also directs his or her parent or guardian to attend the arraignment hearing and to produce the alleged juvenile offender at that hearing. If the minor fails to appear for the arraignment, the court will issue a Pick Up Order (PUO) that serves that same purpose as an adult arrest warrant.

During the arraignment, the alleged youth offender is informed of the charges against him or her and enters a plea. How the case proceeds will depend on his or her plea:

  • Guilty — The case is set for a disposition hearing. The court orders DJJ to prepare a Predisposition Report (PDR) that may recommend withholding adjudication of delinquency and probation with conditions or sanctions, adjudicating delinquent and probation with conditions or sanctions, or adjudicating delinquent and committing the minor to DJJ with or without probation to follow the commitment.
  • Not Guilty — The case is scheduled for an adjudicatory hearing. These types of hearings are heard and decided by a single judge. There are no juries, which means the judge hears all witnesses and reviews all evidence presented by the state and the alleged juvenile offender’s attorney. The case is over if the judge finds the minor not guilty, but the court orders the DJJ to prepare a PDR of he or she is found guilty.

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Find a Juvenile Justice System Lawyer in Palm Beach County

Has your child been charged with allegedly committing any type of criminal offense in South Florida? Make sure he or she has experienced legal representation.

Meltzer & Bell, P.A. defends minors in Jupiter, Royal Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Riviera Beach, Wellington, and many surrounding areas. Our West Palm Beach juvenile justice system attorneys can review your case during a free consultation when you call (561) 557-8686 today.

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